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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Magnolia x soulangiana - Saucer Magnolia

Magnolia x soulangiana is a hybrid (hence the x) of a common shrubby magnolia (M. liliiflora) you may see around town and M. denudata. Then, they then backcrossed it with M. liliifora back and end up with some really nice cultivars that you might see at the local nurseries. There are countless cultivars available and I doubt that the species is sold anymore.

Saucer magnolias are small deciduous trees to about 30 feet but usually nearer to 20'. They are usually branched low with lots of lateral branches extending out and upward creating a more or less rounded spreading crown.

Of course the real attraction is they bloom early in the season, with hundreds of flowers. You may see several colors or ranges of purple around. Many flowers have pale pink petal outsides with pure white insides. A common darker colored flowered cultivar with globose flowers is 'Rustic Rubra'. The common name Saucer Magnolia comes from the shape of the flower. Flowers are large, 6-8" or so, usually pink on the outside and white on the inside.

The sepals and petals look the same, you can't tell them apart. There are usually at least 8 of them. They form a cup or saucer shape. Inside the flowers are the male and female parts. The males are long and showy located below the female part, and there are lots of them. The female reproductive structures are on a elongated shoot. (The best way to see this is to look at the fruit of the southern magnolia. go to that post and see.)

In colder climates they make a larger impact in the early spring as all the flowers open all at once. In many climates it can be almost too early as a hard frost during bloom can kill all the flowers. (I visited Duke Gardens with students one spring and in North Carolina during March it was 15 degrees and all the flowers were black.)

Because we don't really have a "winter" these trees do not bloom all at once like they should, they seem to bloom for a month or longer, just fewer flowers open at a time.  When we moved back to CA our neighbor had a tree in full bloom on Christmas, what a treat and a shock. They also seem to bloom okay for a long time rather than going big.

The leaves are 3-6" long, oblong to obovate shaped with a small point at the tip. Summer color is medium green at best.  Notice the bark in this picture. The magnolia bark is attractive. Its silver gray colored and quite smooth.

An easy ID feature for magnolias is the flower bud. Large, fuzzy and terminal. Notice the young twig is reddish brown and quickly turns to gray.

This is the fruit cluster of the saucer magnolia. They don't generally produce them in larger numbers or at all. They are really a cluster of small follicles that will split open to release the orange colored seeds inside.

If it gets cold enough you might see some fall color which can be pretty nice, but is not very common.

As I mentioned there are tons of cultivars around, and with all of the hybridization going on with different species its pretty hard to tell the players without a score card. Here are a few of my favorites.

'Butterflies' is one of several yellow ones.  (M. acuminata x dentata) (see locations below)

'Alba' is a pure white one. (Seabreeze Place - corner of Sumner - RDM - hard to see)

'Vulcan' is a very dark pink cultivar (M. campbellii 'Lanarth' x liliiflora) (along Old San Jose Road)

There are yellow flowering magnolias:
Pleasure Point has a Yellow Butterfly at 918 Scriver St.

4413 Nora you can find two nice Yellow Lantern cultivars

Santa Cruz - 1324 Broadway, not sure which cultivar

Misidentify this plant? Well, trying to identify specific cultivars is tough, as well as some of the other larger saucer shaped magnolias.

If you can name it Magnolia you are doing great.

716 Gilroy Ave is a great specimen of the normal hybrid

Santa Cruz
116 Almena Ave has one of the best Rustic Rubra cultivars seen around

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